Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jicama – Sweet Starchy Dieters Delight

This crispy sweet, nutty flavored root looks a bit like a turnip, even though they are not in the same family. Jicama is so tasty and versatile, it's one food that is well worth getting acquainted with. It's a fun food to experiment with and is perfect for imparting new flavors in old recipes. And did I mention it's sweet and starchy AND low carb, low fat, and low calorie? Now that definitely deserves a look!

What is it?

We call jicama a root, but it's technically a legume grown for its tuberous roots. Jicama can grow pretty big, but will then get woody tasting because the sugars have converted into starches. If you bite into a raw jicama and it tastes like a raw baking potato, then it's too big. You should have a definite sweet taste when you eat a piece of raw jicama. This wonderfully unique flavor is perfect for many uses. Once peeled, you can cut it up and eat it raw, or throw it in stir fries, or roast it, or boil it up.

History

Jicama is as old as the hills, the Andes Mountains to be precise. Cultivation can be traced back for eons in Mexico, Central America, and South America. It's been around so long, you'll find much of Mexican cuisine includes jicama somewhere. You may even hear it referred to as a Mexican potato. Jicama grows best in warm, dry climates. Although you'll find jicama grown year round, it develops better during the winter months after long months of sunshine and moderate rain. Jicama is very hardy in the right climate, but it's also hardy because it has a built-in insecticide in the vine, keeping itself safe from pests. Many cultures would not have survived without this prolific, nutritious, and delicious crop. As a matter of fact, a devastating drought during the 1980s wiped out much of the potato production, leaving jicama the crop to focus on producing.

Health Benefits

In just one cup of raw jicama slices, you get a whopping 6 grams of dietary fiber along with a respectable showing of other essential vitamins and minerals. And if you're eating low carb, you'll be happy to hear that same cup of raw jicama only has 11 grams of carbs. Subtracting the fiber from the carbs and you've got only 5 net grams of carbs. Yes, this sweet and starchy treat is low carb, so enjoy!

This same cup of raw jicama also offers 40 percent RDA of vitamin C, is fat free, and has only around 35 calories. Raw jicama also has about the same amount of water in it as a cucumber, which is a great bonus for dieters, offering that full feeling with less bulk. Generally speaking, jicama has a lot to offer everyone, but is especially desirable for people eating low carb, low fat, and low calorie.

Fun Fact

Jicama is known by several other names, such as sengkwang, singkamas, yambean, yacon, yacuma, Mexican potato, and Mexican turnip. Not all the jicama plant is edible. The rest of the plant is very poisonous. In fact, the seeds are used as a toxin to poison insects. Not such a fun fact for bugs.

How to Eat

When choosing jicama, you want a small to medium size root that feels very firm to touch. If it has a soft spot, it's not good and could rot quickly. The larger the jicama, the closer it will get to a starchy, woody flavor. When you get your jicama home, you can keep it in your refrigerator for a couple weeks, much like potatoes. You don't need to refrigerate it if you have a very cool place to store it. It won't keep as long if it's not cold, so just keep watch. Of course, they won't last long in your house once you get a taste.

Peel the jicama like you would a potato or turnip, making sure you get the brownish layer under the skin. Slice off a bite and taste it. You'll notice it has a taste that's similar to a very firm raw apple; slightly sweet but also fresh and light in flavor. Unlike apples, however, you won't see the raw jicama turn brown if you leave it out in the air.

Jicama is excellent raw and is often eaten as a snack. Just cut it into strips and serve with a splash of lime juice and a sprinkling of chili powder. You can chop them up as a substitute for water chestnuts in Asian style recipes, adding just before serving to maintain flavor and texture. You can throw raw jicama in your food processor and experiment with the texture to create side dishes, soups, and even drinks. Slice it thin and put it in the oven to bake into snack chips.

Raw, roasted, baked, boiled, broiled, blended, and juiced... whatever you use this versatile food for, it will surely be a hit. Not only for the taste, but as your diet's new best friend!

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